We stood rooted in the bedroom, frozen, both of us too terrified to blink. Downstairs, the door shut and footsteps could be clearly heard on the hardwood floor. A low murmur of voices drifted up, the words inaudible."What are we going to do?" I whispered. Invisible we might be, but I still didn't want to slink through the house with others around. It would also make leaving inconspicuously a problem. Bastien frowned, apparently trying to discern the words below. "Those are all male voices. Not Dana. Come on." He grabbed my arm, and we crept out into the hallway where we could hear more clearly. "You sure they aren't coming home?" asked an anxious voice. "Yup. They'll be out 'til, like, midnight." "Cool." Bastien grinned at me. "Reese," he breathed. Reese. The son. The son who was supposed to be down the street at a friend's house. That was better than Dana, but still disconcerting. I shot Bastien a questioning look. What's he doing here? I mouthed. Bastien shrugged by way of answer and gestured for me to follow him the rest of the way downstairs. Reese and his friend obliviously made enough noise to cover any of our movements.
I hadn't really seen Reese yet and was curious. I'd expected a clean-cut, dutiful altar-boy type, but he seemed perfectly average—in that sullen, T-shirt wearing sort of way. He had Dana's black hair and blue eyes, paired with some of Bill's unfortunate facial features. His friend had long hair and wore a beat-up army coat with jeans."Where should we do it?" asked the friend. Reese glanced around. "Outside. Otherwise they'll smell it later." "Okay. But roll it in here." They huddled around the kitchen table. Reese produced a tin of rolling papers and a plastic Baggie with enough marijuana in it to keep a family of five stoned for a week.
The friend skillfully rolled an enormous joint, and the boys took it outside, going out the same door we'd come in. Bastien and I exchanged glances, both of us barely holding back hysterical laughter. We walked into the still-dark living room and stood at the window, watching the boys outside. They left all the outdoor lights off, not wanting to attract neighborly attention. The joint made a pinpoint of orange light in the blackness as they passed it back and forth."Oh my God," I gasped. "This just justified the whole break-in." Bastien's expression was speculative. "Maybe we can use this against her." I turned on him. "What? Come on. He's just a kid. No need to drag him down with her. Besides, if I had his parents, I'd want to be high too. "
Bastien looked momentarily uncertain, finally yielding with a small nod. "Okay. You're right. So. You want to finish the bedroom and then head out? I doubt they're going to notice much going on around them. "We went back upstairs, still hoping for some incriminating photo or piece of paper. No such luck. We left Reese and his friend alone, using the front door to make our getaway. Once we were safely back at Bastien's, we settled into the immaculate living room, defeated. "Well. That was pointless," I said. "Not entirely." Bastien reached into his pocket and tossed over Reese's plastic bag. I caught it and straightened up in my chair. "Jesus H. Christ! You swiped that poor kid's pot?" "He shouldn't have left it out like that." I held it up. It was half-full. "There's a special hell for people like you." "Yeah, I own a condo there. Besides, it's for his own good. Pot's a gateway drug, you know. " "I can't believe this. You don't think they're going to notice this is missing?" "Nah. By the time they come back in, they'll be so far gone they won't remember where they left it. They'll spend the next few days accusing each other of losing it." I shook my head. "I know I've said it before, but this really is a new low. I…I'm so shocked now, I don't even know what to do." "7 do." An hour later, we were both on the floor, giggling endlessly, though I wasn't entirely sure what about. Bastien passed the joint to me, and I took a hit off it, sighing happily. I handed it back. "I'm not sayingMoniquewasn't a bitch," he was explaining, "but you have to admit, she knew how to get things done."
I leaned against the back of the couch, letting my head roll around on the cushions. "Yeah, but…she was…you know, sloppy. Like, no creativity whatsoever. Being in the business isn't just about sex. It's about…pride…pride in your work."He inhaled and passed the joint back. "Oh, she had pride in her work, believe me. Used to ride me like a horse." He paused a moment, then started laughing. "She totally did me proud." I sat back up. "What, you slept with her?" "Sure, why not?" I poked him with my foot. "You fucking slut." "Look who's calling the cauldron black." "Kettle.It's a kettle. Get your metaphors right. " "That wasn't a metaphor. It was a, you know…" He stared off into space, blinking. "One of those things that's symbolic of another thing. But isn't the same thing. Just like it." "You mean a metaphor?" "No! It's like a story…like…a proverb! That's it." "I'm pretty sure that wasn't a proverb. Maybe it was an analogy. " "I don't think so." "Look, I know these things. I work in a—oh!" "Oh what?" "How am I going to get home?" "You're leaving? Or is that an analogy?" "I'm not leaving yet…but you drove me…you can't drive me back." "Sure I can. I feel fine."
"You wish. I haven't smoked that much." I rummaged through my purse, found my cell phone, and dialed the first number in it. Beside me, Bastien muttered about analogies while staring entranced at the smoke swirling off the joint."Hello?" answered Seth. We hadn't really spoken since our awkward morning. "Hey, it's me." "Hey." "So…I, uh…need a favor." "What is it?" When I didn't say anything right away, he asked, "You still there? You okay?" "Yeah…" I started laughing uncontrollably. "I am 50 okay." "Urn, all right. What do you need?" It took me a moment to remember. "A ride." "A ride?" "Yeah.A ride." Bastien made a rude gesture at the mention of "a ride," and I kicked him again. I gave the address to a clearly confused Seth and then disconnected. "Idiot!" I yelled at Bastien, even though I thought the whole situation was hilarious, as did he. I went in for a tackle. "What were you—" The doorbell rang. Our eyes went wide as we froze mid-grapple, panic flooding us like two kids who had just been busted hardcore. "Shit," I said. "Damn. That author drives fast." "It's not him, you dork. Don't move. They'll go away." He lumbered to his feet. "No…I gotta see who it is…maybe it's Jack Daniels…could use a drink…" "Don't do it!" I begged, suddenly terrified for no reason I could identify.
He turned invisible and strolled over to the door. Half a second later, he came tearing back. "It's Dana! She's back early." He ran his hand frantically over Mitch's neat, blonde hair. "What's she want? What's she doing here?""Maybe she wants Reese's pot back."
"This is my chance! She's here alone. She wants
me. Quick." He yanked my arm and dragged me to the stairs. I cried
out in surprise. "Get out of sight. Throw that away."
"I'm not throwing this away! Besides, you don't think she'll notice that your whole fucking house smells like this? Jesus. Your pupils are the size of her granny panties. Virtuous or not, she isn't stupid."
"Well, hello," he bellowed. "Sorry if I kept you waiting…I was…" He trailed off stupidly, and I shook my head. Sloppy, sloppy. He would have never been at a loss for words sober, but then, his sober self would have immediately noticed the foolishness afoot. "I was…um, busy. Upstairs."
"I see," replied Dana. Her tone was once again set to cool and formal. I decided Bastien had imagined the warm and friendly rapport he kept claiming they had when alone. "Well, I apologize for disturbing you, but when I dropped off the cookies earlier, I think I may have lost an earring."
I straightened up. Cookies? He hadn't mentioned that. Maybe he was making progress after all. Cookies. I wondered what kind she'd brought. Peanut butter? Chocolate chip? Oh. Maybe even white chocolate macadamia.
He and Dana commenced a search for the earring, coming up empty. The whole time, Bastien tried to act like he wasn't stoned, but Dana couldn't have been fooled. Not with those cyborg eyes of hers. Hell, I didn't even need to see it. The audio track alone was entertaining enough.Meanwhile, I couldn't stop thinking about those goddamned cookies. They sounded good. Really good. Suddenly, I wanted them more than I'd ever wanted anything in my life. "Well," I heard Dana say, "I must have lost it somewhere else. Thanks for looking." "Sorry I couldn't help you." "It's all right." She allowed an elegantly crafted pause. "Isn't that Tabitha's purse over there? Is she here?" Oh, shit. I had a feeling Bastien was thinking the same thing. "Uh, well, yeah…but…um, she's upstairs lying down," he faltered. "Has a headache." "Oh, that's too bad. Did she take anything for it?" "Um, yeah, she did." I looked at the joint. Had I ever.
Bastien and Dana started talking about something else, and I decided then that I had to get those cookies. I was starving. The lovebirds sounded like they had moved to the living room, so I could sneak invisibly down the stairs and raid the kitchen without them knowing. Standing up, I put the joint out in the upstairs bathroom and moved on to my covert descent. Pot doesn't usually mess with motor control the way alcohol can, but it can certainly distract you from ordinary things. Like watching where you're going. About three steps down, my foot slipped out from under me.
I uttered a sailor-worthy expletive and slid painfully down the rest of the way, landing hard on my butt at the bottom, my legs twisting into unnatural positions underneath me. I had barely enough sense to snap back to a visible Tabitha, lest Bastien and Dana think a clumsy ghost had just fallen down. A moment later, they came running."What happened?" exclaimed Bastien. He sounded more upset about the interruption than my immediate health. "I…I tripped…" Looking down, I tried moving my left ankle to a more comfortable position. I winced. It hurt like hell, but at least it moved. "Well," he said crisply, "so long as you're okay. I'm sure you'll want to go and—" "Okay?" Dana gave him an incredulous look. "We need to get her to the couch so she can straighten that out." "Oh no," I protested, seeing Bastien's murderous expression. "I…I'm fine…really…"
But there was no arguing with Dana. She supported me under one arm, and he took the other. I hobbled over to the couch, putting my weight only on the right foot. Once I was stretched out, she pushed my jeans up over my calf and felt the ankle with cautious, expert precision, carefully examining each inch. I appreciated her solicitous concern and apparent first-aid know-how, but the thought of this wretched woman touching my leg repulsed me. Besides, what I really wanted were those cookies. Fuck my ankle."It doesn't feel broken," she finally decided. "Probably just a sprain, lucky for you. We should ice it." When Bastien neither did nor offered anything useful, she went into the kitchen. I could hear her opening drawers and the freezer. "Do you hate me or something?" he hissed once we were alone. "This wasn't my fault," I countered. "I think you've got a defective stair." "Defective my ass. The only thing that's defective is your sense of timing. Do you know how close I was to scoring?" "Close? Close? Not to usea cliché, buthell was closer to freezing over than you were to scoring. I don't think she really goes for the babbling, high kind of guy." "I wasn't babbling. And there's no way she knows I'm high." "Oh, come on. If you were any higher, you'd—"
I shut my mouth as Dana returned with the ice
pack. She knelt by my feet and carefully set the pack on the
injured ankle. I grimaced at the sudden change of temperature, but
the shocking cold did numb the throbbing.
Still concerned, she surveyed the rest of my lower leg with those sharp eyes. Again, she felt around the ankle area, her hands gently touching here and there. She frowned. "I could be wrong about how serious it is. You should keep icing it and take ibuprofen. If it doesn't get better in a couple days, go see your doctor."
"Are those what you've been wearing?" She fixed me with a stern, motherly look. "I know how strong societal pressure can be in making you think you need to fit a certain mold. But walking around in shoes like that all day will do serious damage to your feet. Not only that, they send a message that you have no shame when it comes to—"The doorbell rang then. None of us moved at first, and then Bastien rose, looking amazed that this night could get any worse. Dana dropped her wardrobe lecture and switched to a medical one. "You really need to be careful with this. Too much stress will agitate it. "
Bastien returned a moment later with an utterly puzzled Seth, whom I suspected had no idea who had just let him in. Indeed, his bewilderment grew as he scanned Dana and me, no doubt wondering if he had the right house."Hi Seth," I said pointedly, in too loud of a voice, "thanks for coming to pick me up." He continued to stare, and then the faintest gleam of understanding showed in his eyes. He'd seen me shape-shift clothes often, but this was the first time he'd ever seen me in another body. Dana looked around expectantly. "Oh," I said, my mind still running a little slow from the pot. "This is, um, Seth. Seth, Dana." "Hello," she said, rising smoothly and shaking his hand. "Nice to meet you." "Um, yeah. You too." I had a feeling he would bolt if given half a chance.
"Seth is Tabitha's boyfriend," explained Bastien. "I imagine they'll want to be on their way now." "I'd heard you were single. How long have you two been dating?" she asked, steering us toward casual conversation.Neither of us answered. "A couple months," I said at last, wondering if my virtue was once again being assessed. She smiled. "How nice." I started feeling those creepy vibes again, and suddenly I did want to leave. I tried to sit up, and she rushed to my side. "Someone grab her other arm."
When Bastien didn't move, Seth was finally spurred into action. He supported my other side and helped me stand. It was clear, however, that touching me in this body unnerved him, and he tried to manage it while staying as far away from me as possible. Consequently, all of his movements seemed awkward and unnatural, and no doubt Dana thought we were even weirder than before.She and Seth helped me to the car, Bastien following with a pout. When I was situated in the passenger seat, Dana offered a few parting words of instruction to both Seth and me on how to care for the ankle. "Thanks for the help," I told her. "Happy to. Just try to be more careful from now on." She glanced at her watch. "Well. I should probably go home myself." "Do you have to?" asked Bastien stupidly. "Er, I mean, no need to feel rushed…" "Thank you, but no. Bill will wonder what happened to me." I saw her walk back to her house as Seth pulled out. I also saw the look on Bastien's face. The morning after was not going to be pretty. We were almost in the city when Seth finally spoke. "Can you…uh…you know…change? This is really weird." "Huh?" I had been staring bleary-eyed out the window, intrigued by the blur of city lights. "Oh. Yeah." A moment later, I was the Georgina Kincaid he knew. "Thanks. So, uh…I don't suppose I really want to know what was going on back there…" "Nope." I craned my head to look in the backseat. "You really don't." "What are you doing?" "You don't have any cookies back there do you?" "Uh…no. I'm all out." I sighed and sank into my seat. "I am starving. I don't think I can hold on much longer. You sure you don't have any other food?" The ghost of a smile curled his lips. "Nope. Sorry. You want to stop somewhere?" "Yes!"
He pulled into a Taco Bell drive-thru, looking surprised when I gave him my order. When it came up, he wordlessly handed me my bag of four tacos, two bean burritos, and a tostada. I dove into them before he'd even accelerated away.
When we got back to my place, he didn't give me the chance to limp in. He scooped me up effortlessly, almost like O'Neill might have in one of his novels. If not for me being stoned and clinging to a taco, it would have been terribly romantic."You think I'm a freak, don't you?" I asked, once I was situated in bed and he sat on its edge. Seth had tended me once before, after a night of heavy drinking. I felt so irresponsible compared to him. "Well, the tostada was kind of excessive, but I've seen freakier." "No…you know. I mean…" I hesitated. "Well, you may not realize this, but I've sort of been smoking…some stuff." "Yeah. I kind of picked up on that." "Oh. Well. Sorry." I bit into one of the burritos savagely. "Why are you apologizing?" "Because…well, you don't do this." "Do what?" "Smoke pot. Or drink. Geez, you even avoid caffeine. Don't you think I'm like, I don't know…corrupt?" "Corrupt?" He laughed. "Hardly. Anyway, you don't think I've ever done any of that?"
The idea was just shocking enough to give me pause. I put my gluttony on hold. "Well…I don't know. I just figured, well, no. Either that, or you had some tragic history…like you got drunk and hit a mailbox or took off all your clothes in public and now avoid all such vices."
"That would be tragic. But rest easy, I indulged in plenty of 'vices' in college. That's why it took me six years to graduate. Well, that and changing my major a few times. In the end, I just decided to abstain altogether. Didn't like myself otherwise. Sobriety's better for writing, and I say too many stupid things when I'm drunk or high.""Yeah," I said uneasily, trying to remember what I'd said tonight. It was kind of a haze. "So you don't think I'm like…I don't know, a shameless lush?"
"Nope. So long as you don't do yourself harm." He eyed the ankle suspiciously. "It doesn't matter to me. Honestly, half the reason I like you is because you're so…I don't know. You like life." He looked away from my eyes, amused as his thoughts spun, considering. "You're fearless. Bold. Not afraid to enjoy yourself. You just go out there and do what you want. I like the whirlwind you exist in. I envy it. It's funny, really." He smiled. "I used to think I wanted someone exactly like me, but now I think I'd be bored to death with another version of myself. I'm surprised I don't bore you sometimes."
I gaped. "Are you kidding? You're the most interesting person I know. Aside from Hugh maybe. But then, he installs breast implants and buys souls. That's a hard combination to beat. But he's not nearly as cute."Seth's smile increased, and he squeezed my hand. Silence fell between us again, but this time it was kind of cozy. "Thanks for rescuing me," I said slowly, "and for…well…I mean, I'm sorry about last night. Sorry I shut down." His face sobered. "No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have—"
"No," I said firmly. "Don't blame yourself. It was me too. My fault too. And really, I was the one who started it. I should have just talked to you about it then. Especially after you made me pancakes this morning. You know, those suddenly sound really good again." I looked at him meaningfully."We shouldn't have done what we did…in bed…but, at least we did manage to stop. That's worth something." I nodded, crumpling up the Taco Bell bag and tossing it across the room into my wastebasket. Score.
He studied me, eyes warm and affectionate. He sighed and turned pensive again. There apparently was more seriousness to come. "I'd like to try sleeping together again, but I suppose…we should take a break from that. "
I mirrored his sigh. "Yeah. I suppose." Remembering something, I cocked my head and gave him a sharp look. "Hey, hypothetically—and I'm not offering this, so don't get any ideas—would you, like, give up part of your life to sleep with me? Er, but I mean…not actually sleep… "He laughed out loud, the laughter underscored with a wry edge. "Thetis, I'd give up part of my life to do any number of things with you." My interest flared. "Like what?" "Well…isn't it obvious?"
I leaned toward him. Maybe I was still high and suffering from weed-induced horniness—and hey, in another reality, shouldn't we have been entitled to make-up sex?—but I suddenly and desperately wanted to hear him articulate what he wanted to do to me. "Tell me."He shook his head. "I can't. You know how I am." His eyes narrowed intently. "I could maybe…I could maybe write it for you, though." "Really? Not in published story form this time?" "Yes, not in published story form."
"I'd like that." I must have looked expectant because he laughed. "Not tonight, Thetis. Not tonight. I think we both need some sleep."
I was disappointed but could see the wisdom here. Having more time would ensure some good writing, I guessed. Furthermore, it was hard to be too sad when the tension from last night's mishap appeared to be gone. Our rapport and affection had returned, and watching him, I felt my feelings for him practically increase by the second. We chatted a bit more, and then he kissed me lightly on the mouth and rose. I wistfully watched him go, wishing he were staying.Drifting off to sleep, I finally contented myself by thinking about all the things I wanted to do to him. It was a long list, and I was out before even getting through a fraction of it.